THE good news is 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree, one of the country’s most popular horses, is on the comeback trail after an injury-disrupted season.
The even better news is that this magnificent chaser, the first novice to win Cheltenham’s blue riband race in four decades, could reappear in Wetherby’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase on October 29.
The signature race of the year at the West Yorkshire track, trainer Mark Bradstock’s wife Sara signalled the possibility when giving an update on the wellbeing of their stable star, who suffered a hock injury just before last Christmas.
Coneygree’s presence in the Charlie Hall – the one caveat is the need for soft ground – would be a major fillip to the profile of a race that received a massive boost last season thanks to the success of multiple Grade One winner Cue Card.
“He is having a summer holiday, but we have just kept riding him as we don’t want him to lose the muscle he has gained during his rehabilitation,” said Bradstock.
“He has three days off then I ride him for a day. He feels great and in two to three weeks’ time he will come back into proper training. It really all depends on the weather as to where we start him. We might run in the Charlie Hall if they get the rain up there at that point.
“There is no point risking him as he is fragile enough as it is and he won’t run on anything faster than the soft side of good.
“Hopefully we don’t have a long Indian Summer.”
Despite having to overcome a lengthy absence, connections are confident that he still retains the ability required to be given a campaign tailored around trying to regain his Gold Cup title at Cheltenham next March.
This, after all, is a horse that was bred by Bradstock’s late father Lord Oaksey, one of the great gentlemen of racing.
Bradstock added: “The vets are delighted with Coneygree and his jockey Nico de Boinville had a jump on him and he is delighted.
“There is every reason to be optimistic we still have the same horse.
“There was talk of trying to get him back for this year’s Gold Cup, but there was no point in getting him back and breaking him as that would have broken him for good.
“He is nine but he should go on at 10, 11 and 12 as he has relatively few miles on the clock.
“It is lovely for people like us to breed a horse that can take on those of the likes owned by Gigginstown Stud and Rich Ricci.
“I’ve told him that he has got to go win the Gold Cup again as I don’t remember the last one as it was all a blur.”
The Mark Johnston stable will be surprised and disappointed if Royal Ascot runner-up The Last Lion does not prevail at Sandown today.
The two-year-old won an informative renewal of the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster’s season-opening meeting before finding Beverley winner Prince Of Lir too strong in the Norfolk Stakes a fortnight ago.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, expects The Last Lion to make the most of a drop in grade.
Johnston said: “I think The Last Lion should win, to be honest.
“He’s clear on the ratings, he’s proven on the ground and if he can reproduce his run at Ascot, he should be too good for these.
“We’re stepping him down in class and hopefully he’ll get his head in front before going back up in grade later in the year.”
Master Carpenter will not attempt back-to-back victories in the John Smith’s Cup at York on Saturday week after he was laid low for a week following his run in the Coronation Cup.
Though trainer Rod Millman reports his admirable five-year-old to be fine again after having had a cough, the work he was forced to miss means he will have to forego another crack at the valuable handicap which he took last summer by a neck from Kelinni.
However, Master Carpenter, who was fourth to Postponed in the Group One Coronation Cup at Epsom, could return to action on Knavesmire as Millman is now eyeing the Group Two Sky Bet York Stakes on July 23.